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June 8, 2012

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Enforcement action taken over Scottish Legionnaires’ outbreak

The HSE has served an Improvement Notice on an Edinburgh company for alleged failures to control adequately the risk of legionella in a cooling tower.

The move follows an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in the city, which, since the first case was identified on 28 May, has claimed one life.

The notice was served on the North British Distillery Company Ltd, in relation to one cooling tower on the Scottish capital’s Wheatfield Road. However, the company has chosen to take all four of its cooling towers out of operation.

Information previously released suggested that the source of the contamination had been isolated to four cooling towers in the south-west of the city. The HSE, together with the City of Edinburgh Council’s environmental health service and scientific service carried out an investigation, and samples were taken from four facilities – including the North British Distillery Company – which also received chemical treatment.

The company has 21 days to appeal the notice, which was served for a failure to devise and implement a sustained and effective biocide control programme in one cooling tower.

The total number of cases so far confirmed since the first was identified on 28 May is 61. A 56-year-old man with underlying health conditions died while being treated at Edinburgh’s Royal Infirmary. However, Scottish Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said yesterday that those being admitted to hospital with symptoms now are, “generally speaking, in a better state of health than has previously been the case”.

Dr Duncan McCormick, consultant in public-health medicine at NHS Lothian, speaking yesterday, said: “We remain confident – based on the available evidence – that the general source of the infection has been identified and that the treatment to the cooling towers will prove successful. We are expecting cases to continue to emerge over the next few days.”

The HSE has emphasised that issuing the Improvement Notice does not mean that this cooling tower has been identified as the source of the outbreak, saying “it may never be conclusively identified, based on our experience from previous outbreaks”.

Meanwhile, a leading trade union has warned that more public-health scares like the Legionnaires’ disease outbreak in Edinburgh are inevitable in the face of regulatory cut-backs.

Prospect, which represents 1400 health and safety professionals, said today that the legionella contamination in the Scottish capital is a “stark reminder” that cuts to public services can create dangerous and ultimately expensive health-related issues in the longer term.

Emphasising the fact that the HSE has reduced the number of proactive inspections it undertakes by one third, the union said whole sectors of industry are now exempt from inspection.

Said Prospect’s HSE branch chair, Simon Hester: “Due to spending cuts, the HSE’s occupational-health expertise is extremely thinly spread, which has led to a lack of sufficient advice in the field. It is always preferable to avoid incidents that harm people, rather than merely investigating after the event, so Prospect believes that decisions on proactive inspection should be based on professional expertise, and that adequate resources are made available. The HSE needs more inspectors, not fewer.”

The HSE has revamped the ‘Legionella and Legionnaires’ section of its website to remind duty-holders of the importance of controlling risks from man-made water systems.


What makes us susceptible to burnout?

In this episode  of the Safety & Health Podcast, ‘Burnout, stress and being human’, Heather Beach is joined by Stacy Thomson to discuss burnout, perfectionism and how to deal with burnout as an individual, as management and as an organisation.

We provide an insight on how to tackle burnout and why mental health is such a taboo subject, particularly in the workplace.

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12 years ago

This is a private sector company, how do public sector cuts effect this risk?

The hse have minimal inspection regimes of such towers if any.

Air monitoring is not a regulatory requirement. Perhaps had it been this incident and many more, may have been averted?

Its comfoting to think that they are permitted 21 days to control the risk?

The advice was readily available long before the cuts, its just not enforced with any gusto, so why bother with costly maintenance if getting caught is rare.

12 years ago

People can catch legionnaires’ disease by inhaling small droplets of water, suspended in the air, containing the bacteria.

If you operate a system that emits water vapour as mentioned above why is it not practicable to monitor the out flow? Is filtration monitoring not possible?

Unless these systems are checked with regularity the potential for release is not going to be noted until it is too late.

12 years ago

Bob, Way off the mark with “air monitoring”, this would not help with this issue.
Also, as a point it is 21 days to appeal the notice, not to control the risk!

12 years ago

There is no excuse for poorly protected Cooling Towers. They operate with clearly defined risk parameters which include treatment of the development of Bio Film, (slime), hard scale deposits and drift eliminator screen cleaning controls. All of these points can be controlled with correct chemical dosing and maintenance regimes. If the HSE has to impose an improvement notice on any Cooling Tower then they are too late and the operator should be immediately prosecuted.